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Longtime guide accused of smuggling

Posted: December 25, 2011 - 1:10am

ANCHORAGE — A guide known for taking clients to the wildest reaches of Alaska has been charged with helping a man smuggle a 10,000-year-old mammoth fossil out of the state.

Karen Jettmar, director of Equinox Wilderness Expeditions and the author of “The Alaska River Guide,” was indicted Dec. 16 on charges of conspiracy and removing paleontological resource from federal land.

The charges came after a Bureau of Land Management investigation showed a mammoth tusk estimated to be worth $4,000 was removed from public lands near the Kokolik River in Northwest Alaska during a June 2007 guided trip.

Jettmar’s client, who is described in the indictment as a co-conspirator but not named, took the mammoth fossil to Pennsylvania, investigators say.

Jettmar did not immediately return messages left Friday by The Associated Press at her company.

Alaska is a desirable destination for paleontologists, archaeologists and other prehistoric artifact sleuths. The state has more than 15,000 archaeological sites.

During the past 50 years, more than 30 sites have been found statewide that date back more than 10,000 years, the BLM said.

It is illegal to collect or sell mammoth fossils found on federal or state land in Alaska without a permit.

The indictment says Jettmar posted a description of the Kokolik River trip on the company’s website and included a link to a photo of the client holding the mammoth tusk.

After the 2007 trip, Jettmar sent an email to the client that said she knew about a river in Alaska that contained many “bones, ivory, teeth, etc.” and “could be really amazing, as long as we have a pilot who is willing to haul some booty back,” the indictment says, adding that she suggested a summer 2009 trip.

Early that year, the client emailed Jettmar asking about returning to Alaska and advising her to leave room on the return flight for mammoth tusks and other fossils, the indictment states.

In one email, it says, the client talked about constructing a room big enough to hold a mammoth skeleton, if he should find one.

Jettmar is accused of removing a fossil bone valued at less than $500 from public lands in June 2009 and placing it in a canoe that she and the client shared during a trip to the Utukok River in Northwest Alaska, according to the indictment.

BLM investigators said Jettmar had completed law enforcement training with the National Park Service in May of 1984. Her guide book outlines federal regulations for collecting archaeological, paleontological and cultural resources.

Her company website describes her as a former park ranger and assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society. The website says she has guided expeditions to remote areas of Alaska and Canada for more than 30 years. The site also offers 10-day trips to the Kokolik and Utukok rivers for $2,300 and $2,200, plus airfare.

Tim Woody, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society in Anchorage, confirmed Friday that she was assistant regional director for about three years, ending in 1991.

The National Park Service in Anchorage did not immediately return a call for comment.

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